Government to Fund Beds for Homeless Veterans
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are about 200,000 homeless veterans in the U.S., many of them from the Vietnam era. But as the fourth year of the war in Iraq comes to a close, the homeless vet may be someone far younger. As NPR's Andrea Hsu reports, that's something the VA is trying to prepare for.
ANDREA HSU: On a recent morning, the residents of Veterans Village of San Diego put on jackets and ties to welcome a very important guest. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson mingled with a crowd of recently homeless men.
Mr. JIM NICHOLSON (U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs): What prompted you to come here? What was the decision?
Unidentified Man: Well, I ended up losing my job...
HSU: Nicholson was in town to announce $25 million in new funding for transitional housing programs. The money will go towards creating 2,500 more beds at places like this. Nationwide, the VA supports about 8,000 beds for homeless vets. San Diego's Veterans Village has 91.
Mr. NICHOLSON: Good for you. And you've been clean for eight months?
Unidentified Man: Yes, sir.
Mr. NICHOLSON: Keep up the good work.
Unidentified Man: Oh, I plan on it.
HSU: Most of those living here served in the military one, two or even three decades ago. But there are a few younger folks. The VA believes there are currently several hundred homeless veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the U.S. And though the new funding is not specifically geared towards them, they are on everyone's mind.
Representative BOB FILNER (Democrat, California): We have to make sure that the new kids coming back do not fall into the same trap.
HSU: Democratic Congressman Bob Filner is chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He's a familiar face around here. His district encompasses this part of Southern California.
Rep. FILNER: Because we're going to have tens of thousands coming back, and they've had a particularly tough time with amputations and spinal cord and brain injuries. And we have to show them that we love them and support them and give them - make sure they don't fall into the same trap that tens of thousands of Vietnam vets did.
HSU: Vets like Wallace Hunt, who was in the U.S. Embassy in Saigon when it fell in 1975. He remembers all too well how he felt when he came home.
Mr. WALLACE HUNT (Vietnam Vet): Alone. We had camaraderie over there. Everybody watched each other's back. We got back here and people didn't want to talk to you, you know. If they did, they were asking stupid questions about Vietnam. I didn't want to answer them. Quite frankly, when I got back I wanted to forget it, but I never could. The new veterans coming back, they're going to need us to help them when they get back.
HSU: Fellow resident Edwin Arnold was in Beirut when the U.S. Marine barracks came under a suicide bomb attack in 1983. In the years since, he's struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. He's been clean since last fall.
Mr. EDWIN ARNOLD (Veteran): Hopefully I don't relapse, but never's a big word. I'm just taking it one second at a time.
HSU: He says he thinks often of the troops serving now and has this message for them.
Mr. ARNOLD: Us fellow veterans are proud of what you guys are doing. Don't forget that you are loved and remember that our nation is behind you 100 percent.
HSU: The Veterans Village of San Diego will be adding close to 200 beds in the coming year and a half. They're expected to fill up right away.
Andrea Hsu, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.